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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Vulcain...Can it be Saved?

Courtesy of Tempus Fugit
As I am a known and confirmed fan of the Vulcain Cricket and am a proud owner of one from the "between time" when the Paajanen family kept the flame burning for Vulcain.  They did this by working with the folks at Revue Thommen who had the rights to the Vulcain name at the time -
http://www.tempusfugit.watch/2014/02/a-presidents-day-reminder-what-hodinkee.html

Several readers reached out to me following the release of this story from Bloomberg about Vulcain and the planned presentation of a Cricket to the President Elect -
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-08/trump-to-get-inaugural-timepiece-from-ailing-swiss-watchmaker

Sorry to disappoint, we will not be getting into political territory, no matter how tempting it might be ; )

What is of very real interest, however, is what seems to be a systematic failure at the most basic level of Vulcain.  Now to hear the current boss put it, the overall downturn in business is hard on the little guys and that is why they have had to chop a bunch of jobs.  Well, maybe yes but really more no.  Because for reasons we will slowly get into, Vulcain has had more chances to correct itself than most cats have lives.  So before you shed too many tears of the little guy getting beat up on by Goliath, let me inform you that Vulcain is owned by Centrum Prata.  

Centrum Prata owns Vulcain, and that other under performing brand Jaermann & Stübi. 
It is safe to say, without sounding mean, that both of these brands are not exactly high-fliers in terms of sales figures.  

But it gets even more interesting, Centrum Prata also owns one retail outlet called Watches of Switzerland that has two locations (Lucerne and Palma de Mallorca Spain).  These two retail outlets sell a fair number of watches.  But wait, there's still more - Les Ambassadeurs!  With retail locations in Geneva, Zurich, Lucerne, Lugano and St. Moritz.    Jaermann & Stübi. and Vulcain are, as you can imagine, available for purchase at Watches of Switzerland and Les Ambassadeurs.  So essentially, you have the watches, you have the retail locations sufficient to push the very small number of watches that you need to sell, and I would assume you have a motivated sales staff.  

And then let's have a look at who else might have a finger in this particular horological pie -
The Centum Prata Group is owned by the Al-Rayes family of Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  Now like the President Elect, they have not provided us with a tax return, but I am willing to bet that they are sitting on enough money to survive.  But clearly someone within the organization is getting itchy - whether that is the Saudis, or Renato A. Vanotti who I am led to understand is (at least on paper) one of the principal owners of Vulcain. 

Now back to the main point - how to fix Vulcain?  So easy it might shock you!

1.  Price - Vulcain was NEVER a high end, luxury brand in the past.  And it was unrealistic to think that it would magically morph into one.  By today's standards, the Vulcain of then would be realistically at a price point of $2,500 today for a stainless steel alarm watch.  So step one - price realistically.

2.  Positioning - The President's watch was the Vulcain Cricket.  It WAS NOT a time only Vulcain, it was not anything other than that.  And the whole idea of a "First Ladies" watch is frankly grasping at straws.

3.  Knowledge of the actual tradition you are actually trying to harness to actually promote the watches you are actually trying to sell!  Dig a little deeper and maybe reach out to the Paajanen family.  They are possibly one of your best sources for a lot of the Vulcain presidential history that you have seemed to gloss over or simply ignore. 

4.  Take your current watches out of the grey market - Overstock.com, Joma Shop and other dubious outlets.  You are only hurting yourself, damaging the reputation of your brand and making it hard on the retail stores that you own when they have to try and justify why your watch costs more in a store owned by your holding company than if they go online and buy it from the grey market.

5.  Don't ask what flavor - Anyone who has kids or worked with them as a teacher can tell you this one golden rule of sales.  YOU NEVER ASK a child what flavor of ice cream they want.  You will be there all day, and in the end they will decide that they'd rather have a frozen yogurt and why are we at Baskin Robbins?  The question is:  Would you like ice cream?  Yes or no? 
Simply translated?  You have far too many SKUs.  Try this for a wild and crazy idea - 3 collections, limited options, get rid of the limited editions.  And again - PRICE REALISTICALLY.
Every brand owner and brand manager wants to think that they are Patek Philippe, but they are not.
You can put a cat in the oven, but that does not make it a biscuit.


Now, in order to save Vulcain, they will to some extent have to kill the part of it that is not working as referenced above.  And that would mean admitting that they had been making some pretty expensive mistakes for the past several years. 

But, if the decision makers at Vulcain are ready, willing and able to embrace the changes needed?  Well then they just might have something.

Or they can continue to do what they are doing.


1 comment:

  1. Hi James
    Vulcain is a very nice brand. But sorry to correct you, if you want to produce a decent stainless steel watch in Switzerland you are unable to price it at 2500 US with a movement as rare and excellent as that of Vulcain. I have to admit that I did not follow the brand recently but I followed the story when they bought the movement from the bankruptcy in Waldenburg. That movement alone should have enough brand recognition. They just lack decent design instead of being only 0815 as the Germans like to say. Maybe I should give Vanotti a call :-)

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